About this Blog

Robert E. Howard lived a significant part of his brief life during an era of considerable social change: the tumultuous years of the Texas oil boom.  His writing is frequently argued to some degree to have been shaped through his familiarity with the roughnecked men and adolescents who were experiencing the societal shift that saw seasonal agrarian labour displaced by grinding industrial work in the oil fields.  While thinking about and planning for this blog,  I stumbled across an un-cited quotation attributed to Howard on a site called goodreads.com:
“I think the real reason so many youngsters are clamoring for freedom of some vague sort, is because of unrest and dissatisfaction with present conditions; I don't believe this machine age gives full satisfaction in a spiritual way, if the term may be allowed.”
Robert E. Howard

The layers of irony in this  observation rest on Howard's choice of words.  On one hand, Howard recognizes that young people in the rapidly industrializing society of early 20th Century America had an appetite for escapist fantasy; a hunger for more primal adventure and personal liberty.  Yet we who inhabit the early 21st Century, and who enjoy very different sort of "machine age"; we literally turn to our 'machines', PCs and the internet, precisely to find our encounters with that fantasy and to temporaily forget  the humdrum of our jobs, the rigours of study, or the stessses life's many other demands --- to escaped the daily grind.

In MMOs, players use the word 'grind' to refer to playing repeated quests or mechanics for rewards.  Meanwhile fans of Conan in general (at least fans of the pop-culture Conan) have that other image of grinding in their heads. The 'wheel of pain' sequence in which director John Milius' cinematic version of the boy, Conan, has been enslaved and is forced to push a huge wheel.  In that montage, from Conan The Barbarian (1982), Conan outlives the other slaves and is unshackled years later: a survivor of numbing psychological torture and yet, an individual of immense physical strength.

Conan The Barbarian (1982) concept art by William Stout

As players, we can go to explore, and virtually witness Funcom's variant of the wheel of pain in the game (one of its great cinematic allusions).  The MMO, Age of Conan, clearly draws on and contributes to what's usually called the pastiche version of the Conan character: it's the sum of the many the versions of Conan and his world as depicted, not only by Howard in the 1920's, but also the subsequent quasi- or non-Howardian interpretations, such as: the Lancer paperbacks; Marvel's and Dark Horse's graphic novels; and Milius', Fleischer's, and Nispel's films, etc..

Hence, I felt the title "This Machine Age" allows this blog to tap into the various incarnations of the broader Conan mythos, while representing the context in which AoC players play and sometimes the very activities which Funcom's virtual Hyborian Age simulates. And although Age of Conan is part of the pop-culture pastiche, I like the idea that this blog looks to Robert Howard's phraseology, for its identity.

It's currently the plan to update this blog at least twice a month with a view to filling the void between the Game Director's monthly letters.

P.S. Originally, I had wanted to call the blog "The Wheel of Playin' ". When I ran the idea by my wife, she gave me the what-a-rancid-pun look and quipped, "You DO want people to read this blog?? Right?"

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